After more than 37 years of eating out of every bowl of dog food in the equation (End-User, AV Integrator and Manufacturer), I have watched presentations and the technology used evolve from tin can & string to NASA technology.
By no fault of anyone involved, 8 out of 10 primary "presenters" in fact have drawn the short straw and are as nervous as cats when they walk up to the podium. And, for all the advancements and money we spend to outfit a conference room with the best ClearOne equipment money can buy, it will only work as good as the person speaking and how prepared they are.
So, this is the first installment of just a few of the best practices and common sense tips I've picked up from hundreds of articles and real world experience along the ways to improve your presentation:
- Realize 90% of Nervousness Doesn’t Show: The audience usually can’t see the butterflies, or shaky hands, or sweaty palms. The problem occurs when we start thinking about these symptoms rather than focusing on the audience and our topic. By human nature, most people are focused on themselves not on you. Focus on them and two things will happen: 1) they will like you more, and 2) much of the nervousness that you feel will go away.
- Butterflies are Normal: At this point, as you practice, you might start to feel butterflies in your stomach or other symptoms of public speaking fear. Don’t worry. This is normal. However, as you practice once or twice, the nervousness should drop pretty dramatically.
- Learn from Mistakes: When you or your team has challenges, tell the story about the challenge or mistake, and then add the moral at the end to show how you learned from it. A lot of times, this can add some self-deprecating humor as well.
- Lose Train of Thought?If you lose your train of thought and feel some panic, then one of a couple of things might be happening. You likely have a bunch of bullet points that are difficult to remember. If so, go back through the earlier tips and design your speech differently. If you are feeling light headed and confused, though…
- Energy and Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is the absolute most important public speaking secret. If you have energy and enthusiasm, your audience will love you. Be excited about your topic, and your audience will be excited about your presentation.
- Talk with Your Hands: We all naturally speak with our hands, but for some reason, when we stand up to speak, we tend lock up our body language and lose a lot of our natural energy. Drop your hands when you start a speech, then use them to explain you points. (By the way, if you tell a lot of stories, this will happen naturally.)
- Make Your Gestures Bigger than Your Body: Small gestures below the shoulders and close to your body make you look weak and timid. The higher and wider your gestures are, the more confident you appear. When we get nervous, we want a barrier between us and the threat, so the small gestures show the audience that you are threatened by them. Make the gestures bigger.
- Breathe: When we get nervous, we tend to breathe more shallowly. When this happens, the speaker will not have enough oxygen which makes the panic even greater… Which alters the breathing even more. When you feel this happening, just stop, and take a deep breath from the diaphragm. To keep this from happening, take a nice deep breath before you say your first sentence.
- Props can Add Showmanship: When legislators were trying to get people upset about the healthcare legislation in 2009, they just printed out the thousands of documents that made up the bill. The piles and piles of unreadable pages was pretty overwhelming and made a valid point. When I was starting out teaching leadership classes, I found a toy that was a tiny shipping box that, when I pushed a button, shook and said, “Let me out of here!” I used it as a prop when I talked about self-confidence saying, “we all have that confident person inside of us who is struggling to get out and be seen.”
- Have a Contest: Divide the audience into small groups and have a contest of some kind. This could be a test to see what they remember from the speeches from previous presenters or it could be a contest to see who can come up with the most creative solution to a challenge or problem that you are experiencing. Get creative, because people learn more when they are having fun
The Seven Deadly Sins of Presenting
- Thou Shan’t Not Go Overtime without Consent
- To “uh” is Human, but Too Many is Annoying
- Thou Shall Not Speak Monotone
- Thou Shall Not Use Shop-Talk
- Thou Shall Not Speak Whilst the Audience Reads Thy Slide
- Thou Shall Not Read Endless Excerpts to Thine Audience
- Thou Shall Not Dump Endless Data Upon Thine Audience
The good news is that if you follow the prior tips, you will never violate any of these deadly sins!